Looking back over the last four years, it is now obvious that the greatest symbolic moment of President Barack Obama's first term was the very first moment.
That is when Obama placed his left hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible, raised his right hand, and followed the lead of Chief Justice John Roberts in attempting to recite the oath that all American presidents must take, swearing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Obama and Roberts mangled the oath, a poignant precursor of their subsequent exertions to mangle the Constitution itself.
The Constitution says: "Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: -- 'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'"
After Roberts and Obama failed to recite these words correctly -- as more than a million watched from the National Mall -- Obama decided to take the oath a second time, on Jan. 21, 2009, in front of a few reporters in the White House Map Room.
"We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday," White House Counsel Greg Craig said in an explanatory statement. "But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time."
But if Obama's second oath-taking was essentially a symbolic gesture, it lacked the most powerful element of his first oath-taking: This time he did not use a Bible.
Why not? One answer is indisputable: It was not important to him.
Had using a Bible been important to Obama, he would have used a Bible. He might have used the Bible he read when he decided to embrace Christianity. Or he might have used one of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Bibles.
But history must record Obama did not use a Bible.
The Constitution, of course, does not require presidents to take the oath with a Bible -- and not all presidents have. Yet George Washington himself started the tradition, and in his first inaugural address gave a clear indication of why.
"It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge," said Washington.
"In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either," Washington continued. "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States."
Seven and a half years later, in his Farewell Address, Washington argued that liberty itself was at risk in a nation where oaths were taken without "religious obligation."
"Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?" said Washington. "And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
At his first inaugural, Obama delivered a far different vision of America. "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness," Obama said. "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers."
Nonbelievers? George Washington believed Americans duty-bound to "acknowledge and adore" God and that the nation could not maintain its morality if it turned away from Him. Obama called on Americans to celebrate nonbelief as part of our "patchwork heritage of strength."
In his first term, Obama became the first president to sign federal legislation commanding individuals to buy a good or service (health insurance). Chief Justice John Roberts became the first justice to write an opinion arguing that the Constitution gives the federal government the power to do this.
Obama's administration has declared that sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs are among the goods and services Americans must pay for through their government-mandated health insurance.
The administration is now arguing in federal court that the First Amendment right to "free exercise" of religion does not prevent the government from forcing Christians to pay for these things even when it violates their consciences and the doctrines of their faith.
Obama will soon swear a third time to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Whether he uses a Bible or not, he will be lying under oath.